So, I have finished therapy.
Some of you may remember the post I wrote when I started. Overall, I think it has gone well. The goal I set myself initially with my overachieving brain on was difficult and I have concluded that I cannot achieve it. I wanted to spend 5 nights a week not working/doing some self care stuff, but over the last few weeks part of what we have established is that being busy and working hard is part of my personality and it’s not reasonable to expect me to be able to drastically change that. I have settled on three nights a week (which I am yet to do but believe that I can). I also wanted to be able to accept my diagnosis of bipolar disorder more than it appears I currently have.
A lot of what I have learnt has been surprising to me, particularly given that I’ve had therapy of various kinds on previous occasions. I guess it just goes to show that you can always improve and learn things about yourself.
I have never considered myself to be anxious, and I’ve always been very open about the fact that I am emotionally a little cut off. It is a huge part of my job to be able to be in tune with people’s emotions and to pick up on nuance’s that might indicate different thoughts and feelings, but I am terrible at recognising this in myself. Due to various life experiences that I wont bore you with now, I have come to learn that essentially emotions are difficult and dangerous. This isn’t the first time we have come to this conclusion; I discovered this during my last treatment with the eating disorders team, and what we established is that I used anorexia as a way to avoid feelings. What I didn’t realise, however, is that without an eating disorder I was just finding new ways to do this, which it transpires are being perpetually busy, not talking about emotions and being overall completely avoidant.
When exploring this a little more, it appears that an emotion I feel a huge proportion of the time is anxiety. Anxiety that I will fail at something, that I am out of control, that I will relapse. I also have a huge fear of dying which consumes much of my thoughts. My therapist described me having a cutoff between my brain and my body, in that I find it incredibly difficult to register emotions as I feel almost none of the physical effects, which means I have to be even more attuned to my thoughts to work out how I am feeling. However, what I do is constantly keep my mind busy to avoid focusing on any of these thoughts – we’re back to avoidance again, do you see the pattern here?
When I was discharged from the ED team, I started to become much better at this. Around a year later I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and it appears this resulted in me using a lot of these old coping strategies to deal with what was a huge, life changing piece of information. I completely detached myself from the diagnosis and if anything my perfectionism got worse because I felt like I had to overcompensate. I can’t be mentally ill, look how high functioning I am! Look how good I am at this! Look how well I manage stress! For this reason, when I relapsed last year, I had a very, very long way to fall. It was my first relapse since I was diagnosed. It was the first time that I’ve ever had to face the fact that I will relapse, and that this illness is lifelong, and that no matter how much control I enact over my life and how much I try to stay well, I am ultimately not in control. With that said, I also know that I will never let it control me.
So, what I have been learning is how to recognise emotions and how to cope with them. Some of these are around this diagnosis which is perhaps why I have been avoiding them. They are uncomfortable feelings: shame, sadness, anger. I am to check in with myself more and take time to really tune in to how I am. Part of my fear around doing this is that when I have been trying to, I find that I am almost always anxious, and I find that an intolerable feeling. But it’s not about ignoring it, it’s about coping with it. I am learning to do that.
One thing that tuning into my feelings has also taught me is that perhaps I have further to go in my anorexia recovery than I have led myself to believe. But that’s okay. I am a work in progress, and what I need to strive for is progress, not perfection. Nothing, and nobody, is perfect, and the sooner I stop trying to be the sooner I can start to forgive myself. It’s not my fault I’m ill. Yes, it feels unfair. Yes, I am sad and angry about it. But I will not let myself feel ashamed.
Overall, I am incredibly grateful that the NHS have provided me with this therapy. I am well aware that this diagnosis opens doors for me that other people don’t have, and I have been very lucky. But actually, although my self esteem may try to tell me otherwise, I was worthy and deserving of this support.
If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! Although I am very open it’s not so common for me to use this blog as a sort of personal diary so I’m incredibly grateful for everyone who stops by and reads my thoughts jumbling around in this little corner of the internet.
It’s onwards and upwards from here.